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‘The Twin’

by KEITH GARLINGTON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | May 6, 2022 at 1:31 a.m.

Creepy children have become a stalwart in horror movies. They've pretty much overtaken zombies, vampires, and the like as the genre's go-to source of scares. The latest film to tap into this deep well is the Shudder Original "The Twin." But don't be mistaken, there is more to this surprisingly rich and layered chiller than meets the eye. In fact, Finnish director Taneli Mustonen's film doesn't fit into any one specific category. It's a horror movie, but one that pulls from a variety of influences.

The often underrated Teresa Palmer plays Rachel, a mother in mourning after her young son Nathan is killed in a tragic car wreck (heavy stuff). Struggling to cope, Rachel and her husband, Anthony (Steven Cree), sell their house and move from the States to his family's old home place in northern Finland. They bring along their son and Nathan's twin brother Elliot (Tristan Ruggeri) who's dealing with the loss in his own way.

Grief remains one of the most powerful themes in modern day cinema, and it lies at the core of "The Twin." But by making this a horror movie, Mustonen (who also co-wrote the script along with Aleksi Hyvarinen) is able to use the genre's diversity to dig into the various facets of grief. As a result we get a film that is equal parts psychological and supernatural. There's even a taste of old-fashioned folk horror that really comes into view during the third act.

Rachel's hope is that she and her family can move past their devastation and make a fresh start in the tranquil Finnish countryside. But (of course) those hopes slowly unravel. It starts with Elliot who would rather play with Nathan's old toys and even asks to have an extra bed put in his room for his deceased brother. Rachel feels sympathy and goes along with it, feeling Elliot needs the time and space to come to terms in his own way. Anthony feels it's hindering Elliot's ability to get past the tragedy. That husband-wife tension only intensifies throughout the film.

Adding to the growing sense of unease are the fittingly creepy locals who take a special interest in the young family. A "welcome to the neighborhood" party introduces the folk horror element, which festers into something unexpected (I'll let you find out for yourself). A wild card in the story comes in the form of an eccentric village outcast named Helen (Barbara Marten). She's considered a crackpot by the townsfolk and Anthony. But she issues a dire yet vague warning to Rachel -- "Your son has made a wish, and it has been granted."

Terrifying dreams, eerie visions, Elliot's startling behavior -- it all factors in as Mustonen patiently feeds us bits of his slow-boiling mystery. And while I eventually began to suspect where the story might be heading, the movie never fully tips its hand. Unfortunately not everything comes together in the end, and there were some holes in the story that I just couldn't fill.

But kudos to Mustonen. Even if it's not entirely seamless, "The Twin" kept me interested and engaged. It's brimming with suspense and atmosphere from start to finish and is anchored by a deeply committed lead performance from Palmer. Color me pleasantly surprised. "The Twin" hits select theaters, video on demand, and will be streaming exclusively on Shudder beginning today.

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